PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the space and defense sectors Nov. 22, despite tremendous pressure to cut government spending.
Faced with the loss of its Triple-A credit rating on sovereign debt and the need for sizeable budget cuts, Sarkozy said continued investment in the areas of space and defense technology should be viewed not as a drain on the budget but a down payment on the country’s future.
In a 26-min. speech delivered at the French space agency’s facility in Toulouse, France, Sarkozy said his government had already made available a budget of €83 million ($112 million) to begin work on the successor to Europe’s Ariane 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Ariane 6. A further tranche of more than €100 million is forthcoming.
The funding is part of a larger bond issue in which close to half a billion euros will pay for investments in the next-generation launch vehicle, a joint French-U.S. ocean-altimetry satellite, an improved multimission microsatellite platform and new telecom satellite technologies.
France would put close to half of the bond money earmarked for space — around €220 million — toward Ariane 6 development. The modular launcher capable of lifting satellites weighing between 2,000 kg (4,400 lb.) and 8,000 kg could be operational around 2025. However, after the initial €83 million investment, Sarkozy said the balance of the Ariane 6 funds would await co-investment with other European countries.
Sarkozy did not mention the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME), an upgrade that includes development of a restartable cryogenic upper stage to boost the rocket’s performance and enable simultaneous launches of multiple satellites into different orbits. Estimated to cost €1.5 billion, the upgrade would not be operational before 2019.
In an Oct. 18 interview with La Tribune, French Research Minister Laurent Wauquiez said it is unclear whether there is enough money in the forthcoming budget for both the midlife upgrade and a post-Ariane 5 rocket development.